Kawamura Hiroshi was one of more than 2,000 people forced to leave Namie Town after the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. His farmland is just seven kilometers from the nuclear power plant.
Two years later, when authorities allowed people to enter in the daytime only, Kawamura returned and tried his hand at growing vegetables. The following year he switched to flowers, saying he felt they would bring people some cheer.
"When people returned to the town to clean up their homes and visit graves, I thought it would be better for them to see beautiful flowers rather than just desolation."
It was a lonely start. Even when the authorities fully lifted the evacuation order on 20 percent of the town in 2017, including his farm, many former residents chose not to return. The population of Namie is still only 10 percent of what it used to be. One factor holding people back is the lack of work there.
Kawamura thought his fledgling business pointed to a way forward for Namie. He would encourage others to set up flower operations and put Namie on the map for a new, more positive reason.
"If people can move here and we build a flower industry, I think it will provide encouragement to the region," he says. "I especially want young people to come and succeed here."
He now ships out more than 200,000 orders a year.
And he is no longer the only cut flower grower in the town.
There are now seven cut flower farms with three more on the way, and Kawamura trained many of the people involved.
Watase Masanori and his wife Megumi were living in Kanagawa, near Tokyo, before traveling to Kawauchi village in Fukushima to help a grape farmer. That's where they heard about Kawamura and the blooming flower industry in Namie. Now they've moved there, leased land and built greenhouses. They say they'll be ready to start growing eustomas from April.
"Our goal is to succeed as flower farmers and encourage more people from outside the area to come to Namie," Masanori says.
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Kawamura has built a reputation for high quality products, and his eustomas, marigolds and other flora fetch high prices across Japan. And though nobody will officially confirm who grew them, eustomas from Fukushima were used in bouquets for medalists at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics.
Kawamura's fellow growers hope they can emulate his success and turn a town that was so recently uninhabitable into a thriving symbol of revival.